NASA's NEOWISE Reveals the Enormous Amount of Asteroids Inside Our Solar System

Saturday, 28 April 2018 - 5:16PM
Space
Solar System
NASA
Saturday, 28 April 2018 - 5:16PM
NASA's NEOWISE Reveals the Enormous Amount of Asteroids Inside Our Solar System
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NASA/JPL-Caltech

In 2009, NASA launched their Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer telescope (or WISE for short, because of course) with the simple goal of finding new things using its infrared lens.

And later in 2013, they began a mission called NEOWISE (Near-Earth Object WISE) to attempt to record the many asteroids and small bodies within close proximity of Earth. It's been at work doing this for several years now, and NASA just released a video showing what NEOWISE has picked up throughout our solar system so far.

And it's been very busy, having detected 29,375 objects — over 788 of which are near Earth and 136 of which are comets— using infrared light. See their video below, which visualizes how crowded our solar system can be, especially in the asteroid belt:



To count as "near Earth," an asteroid or comet has to have their orbit nudged by the planets in our solar system in a specific way, so that its orbital path is shifted close to our home planet. Most near-Earth objects are harmless, with only 10 of these objects being listed as potentially hazardous by NASA.

Amy Mainzer, a principal investigator on NEOWISE at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, described NEOWISE in a press release from the space agency:

Opening quote
"NEOWISE continues to expand our catalog and knowledge of these elusive and important objects. In total, NEOWISE has now characterized sizes and reflectivities of over 1,300 near-Earth objects since the spacecraft was launched, offering an invaluable resource for understanding the physical properties of this population, and studying what they are made of and where they have come from."
Closing quote


The chances of any of these many, many objects hitting Earth are slim. But it's an important reminder that space isn't always as empty as we make it out to be.

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